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A ScrumMaster's Agile Facilitation Techniques

20 October 2017

Niranjan Nerlige V
Exelplus Services


Agile facilitation is becoming more and more widely used to support Agile teams. I have found, in my own experience as a ScrumMaster, coach, and trainer, that facilitation is one of the chief responsibilities of a ScrumMaster.

The ScrumMaster needs to support the team in Scrum ceremonies in order to follow their purpose (as well as Scrum processes) and to engage in continuous improvement. Many Agile teams are unable to resolve conflicts themselves, and they would be in much better position if someone like the ScrumMaster were to wear the facilitator hat in helping them to arrive at a common understanding. Agile teams need an environment of consensus to reach agreement during team issues, figuring out their impediments, or in many project situations. Therefore the role of the ScrumMaster as a facilitator becomes highly important. ScrumMasters need to help create an environment in which team members can come to some common understanding despite varying personal preferences.

During facilitation, the facilitator must, of course, take as neutral a position as possible. In this article I have detailed three of my favorite facilitation techniques, all of which I have successfully used as a ScrumMaster and Agile coach.
 

What is a facilitator?

“Someone who helps a group of people understand their common objectives and assists them to plan how to achieve these objectives; in doing so, the facilitator remains ‘neutral,’ meaning he/she doesn’t take a particular position in the discussion.” — Barry Overeem, Scrum Trainer (http://www.barryovereem.com/the-scrum-master-as-a-facilitator/)
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Image courtesy of http://www.myriamlaberge.ca/
 

How the ScrumMaster facilitates the Scrum Team

These are my favorite techniques for facilitating group decision making:
  • Dot voting
  • Fist of Five voting
  • Thumb voting


Dot voting

This method allows the group to narrow the options and focus on what is important.
  1. Give everyone three votes. This is important, because it helps people to make clearer choices, without having to pick “just one.”
  2. Each person marks his or her vote by placing a dot on the written option or on a sticky note.
  3. Have everyone vote at the same time (as far as is possible). This will avoid political overtones of voting.
  4. After the voting, count the dots for each option. The results show where the group should focus its actions.
Use Dot voting to identify the team’s top choices. I have found this useful to help the team come to consensus quickly, without wasting much time and also without hurting anyone by making them feel unheard.

Example: What we should we order for lunch?
image-1.jpg
Final consensus: Indian buffet
 

Fist of Five

Fist of Five is a technique used by Agile software development teams to poll team members and help achieve consensus. I have used this technique many times in situations where it requires a group to agree to commit to certain features, prioritize the problems to tackle, and agree when deciding among multiple solutions.
image-2.jpg
Source: http://agileforall.com/learning-with-fist-of-five-voting/
 

0 fingers (fist): No way. This vote blocks consensus.
1 finger: I have serious reservations about this idea, but I vote to move forward.
2 fingers: I have some concerns, but I’ll go along and try it.
3 fingers: I support the idea.
4 fingers: I like this idea; sounds good.
5 fingers: Absolutely, the best idea ever! I’ll champion it.

Here’s how to use this technique:
  1. State the question: “Is everyone OK with Indian food for lunch?”
  2. Count: 1, 2, 3, vote! Everyone votes at the same time by holding up 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 fingers.
  3. The facilitator (or vote caller) looks around the room and quickly tallies the votes
  4. Based on the goal of the vote (as noted above), the facilitator may need to take next steps:
    • Goal: Learn and gain consensus — If you have some 0s, 1s, or 2s, ask for reasons.
    • After discussion, vote again if the previous results were inconclusive.


Thumb voting

image-3.jpg
Thumb voting is a simple version of the voting described above. I have found this technique particularly useful when group has to decide in a very short time on possible alternatives to solve an issue. The majority vote wins. (Of course, in cases of a tie there will be the need for further discussion and consensus building.)
 

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.



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